PHOTO ESSAY: When a border is a multifaceted practice of life
This photo essay was a runner-up of the global photo contest by the Eur-Asian Border Lab for 2023, exploring the conceptual, formal, and metaphoric implications of borders and bordering
Asel Murzakulova, Senior research fellow at MSRI University of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan)
The territory of the Fergana Valley was transformed into Soviet territorial and national units during a broad political process that went down in history as the national territorial division of Central Asia from 1924 to 1936. This process laid the foundation for the framework of the national state borders of the Fergana Valley. The introduction of the census, codification of language and culture, and geographical maps became the basis for inserting new national units into the region’s history. Nevertheless, administrative borders between Soviet republics remained dynamic, which led to border conflicts between neighbouring states after independence.
In this photo essay, I explore infrastructural and social transformations of life in the Ferghana Valley borderlands and show how borders, infrastructure, and the lives of ordinary people connect in a mutual process of production. Photo collected during field research between 2015 and 2020 in 47 villages located in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Within these multifaceted images lie nuanced portrayals depicting the existence of spaces amid the passage of time and borders. One photograph may encapsulate the palpable presence of material borders, demarcated by distinct lines and infrastructure. In other instances, borders may manifest themselves as transborder irrigation canals that bring delight to children during scorching summer days. For a Tajikistan school student, borders may be imagined as a harmonious coexistence of states within one road stretch. And yet, borders can also be experienced as the dust on smuggling roads, intended to bypass their very existence.